Orono residents waiting to register to vote line a section of the indoor track at the University of Maine New Balance Student Recreation Center in Orono Tuesday. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

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Maine lawmakers are again considering legislation to require registered voters to show an ID to cast a ballot. This is a solution in search of a problem.

Backers of the bill, LD 34, say that such a requirement could make elections more secure. Yet, voter fraud is extremely rare, and there is little evidence that requiring a photo ID to vote deters fraud. In Maine, voters must provide identification and proof of residency to register to vote.

Georgia implemented a voter identification requirement in 2008. In 2012, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that neither claims that the new law would prevent fraud nor that it would suppress voter turnout, especially among people of color, turned out to be true. Election officials say they have not found any cases of voter fraud that were thwarted by the new ID requirement. Nor was there a reduction in voter participation, particularly among Black and Hispanic voters, after the new law, the newspaper’s analysis found.

Given such results, bills like LD 34 don’t really seem to be about election security. They are about making voting appear harder for certain groups. Consider the language from LD 34. These are the forms of photo ID that would be acceptable if the bill becomes law: a valid driver’s license or nondriver identification card issued by the state; a United States passport; military identification; or a permit to carry a concealed handgun. The bill specifically excludes identification cards issued by a college or university in Maine.

This follows years of efforts by Republicans to try to make it harder for college students to vote, while also seeking to scare students away from voting with false information and veiled threats. They falsely claimed that students were being illegally bused to polling places and that many had voted fraudulently. Even after investigations found these claims to be untrue, they sought to intimidate college-aged voters. In 2011, the Republican Secretary of State sent a letter to 200 university students saying they needed to register their cars in Maine in order to vote. They don’t. Fliers were left on students’ cars at Bates College in 2106 making similar claims and then Gov. Paul LePage warned the state would “do everything we can that is allowed under state and federal law to verify college students who voted here are following Maine law.” A Republican legislative leader introduced legislation to require that college students – but only college students – register a vehicle in Maine or pay personal income taxes in the state in order to be eligible to vote in the state.

Under current Maine law, college students can list their dormitory, apartment or other housing as their residence for the purpose of voting. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has backed this standard.

Why would Republicans want to discourage young people from voting? Probably because they generally support more liberal candidates and ideas.

So, here is a not-so-radical idea for Republicans (which we first voiced in 2017): Instead of trying to restrict the voting rights of college students, Republicans could try to actually win their votes. They could adopt an agenda and recruit candidates that appeal to young voters.

Chase Empsall, the secretary for the University of Maine College Republicans and president of UMaine’s Young Americans for Liberty, recently suggested that the Republican Party lead on climate change and clean energy to capture a larger share of young voters.

“In light of the 2022 midterms, we know the importance of young voters,” he wrote in a Dec. 22 letter to the editor. “A smart bet would be for the Republican Party to play offense on climate change and promote solutions of our own.”

Leading on important issues would be far better than trying to make it harder for people, especially young people, to vote.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...